The book My Name is Blessing by Eric Walters bears a lot in similarity to the book I Come from the Water. Both tell of a child finding a home in a children’s house (orphanage) and both are based on real stories. I Came From the Water takes place in Haiti. My Name is Blessing takes place in Kenya.
The boy, Blessing, was not named that by his mother. Instead she named him after suffering. He was raised by his grandmother until she thought it best to take him to the children’s house. There he is told there will not be room for a boy named suffering. He thinks it is because of his misshapen hand, but he is wrong. They will take him but rename him Blessing, because he is a blessing.
The boy in this story is shown to be very poor and very caring:
There was only one thing that would have made it better. He wishes that his Nyanya [grandmother] had saved some for herself. More often, she ate only the burnt parts from the bottom of the pot.
I borrow books like these from the library hoping for cultural details, for glimpses into different countries and situations. I hope that stories like these teach my kids gratitude – not gratitude that we have more than the people in the stories, but instead the gratitude that comes from knowing that happiness comes from the inside, from loving others and building relationships. Knowledge that gratitude is a choice, not a result of the circumstances.
At the end of the book there is some information about the children’s home and its accompanying organization Creation of Hope, and I went to their webpage for more information. I am struck by the concern that the writers express for doing things properly. For example, they wrote on their webpage:
Purchasing land is always a delicate process in rural Kenya. People are very tied to their ancestral homes. People who have been residents in Nairobi for decades still say they ‘stay in Nairobi but their home is in Mbooni’. This is their homestead or ‘shamba.’ Even when land is not used, or only on an occasional weekend it is held dearly and the process of purchase must be carefully approached. As well we always make a conscious effort not to upset the economics of the region. We always try to pay fair market value, living wages to our staff. If we overpay for anything it would create a precedent that would see us overpaying for everything. We are a small organization and must respect our donors, and the needs of our orphans, by getting good value for our – your – dollars. Henry is a community leader, an elder and a respected businessman. He will determine the correct price and negotiate on our behalf.
I read through a large portion of their entries. In April of 2009 they speak of handing out flashlights to people. Later they talk about solar lamps instead. They are replanting trees and distributing solar cookers. The work they describe sounds amazing, connecting environmental improvements with improving the quality of life for the local community!
Creation of Hope sounds like such an amazing alternative, for schools and other people who want to help others, to donate to this cause rather than to Operation Christmas Child or the other bigger organizations that may have less connection with the people on the ground and less ability to listen to the needs of the people themselves. They have a program to sponsor children but they cap the number of sponsors they deal with to keep within what they can manage.
Creation of Hope is run between Eric Walters and his wife in Canada, and Ruth Kyatha and her family in Kenya. 15% of their funding comes from people in Kenya. In an email from Walters he wrote that “most organizations are pretty thrilled if they 1.5% of their funding from local sources.” The local people support see the good they are doing and support it.
I asked Walters about “voluntourism.” There are many great articles written about the problems of having people go to volunteer at orphanages, some of which end up being set up as tourist attractions. Walters replied that:
I’ve been over every year for the past 7 or 8 years. I bring people with me sometimes and there have been up to 18 people along. Every person, including me, pays every cent of their own way. No fundraising allowed. Fundraising isn’t to pay for trips it’s only to go directly to supporting the orphans and community property. Once there on the grounds each person must pay $20.00 per day to pay for food, laundry and to be escorted around – again donated money needs to go for the program not for people’s holidays.
Sometimes we have long term volunteers who help with program or work in the local schools. We pre-screen and most often we know who they are. They have been such an asset to the program and to the community. Our clear direction always is doing what’s best for the children and for the community. We turn away people who are looking for something to put on their university resume or who don’t really get what things are about. We’re pretty particular and historically I’m there most of the time to help bring about cultural awareness. This isn’t a fancy program. Our people who go live in the community, on the grounds and experience the reality rather than ‘Africa-light’ as my daughter Julia calls it. I’m back over in December for 6 to 8 weeks and my youngest will be there for 4 months.
Eric Walters, who wrote the book My Name is Blessing, also wrote the book The Matatu about a folktale of the Kamba of Kikima, Kenya. Ruth Kyatha, the director of Creation of Hope writes in the introduction:
We believe Kamba stories should be told by members of our tribe. In June of 2009, Eric was made a Kamba elder. It is only fitting that Eric has expanded and retold this Kamba story, as we consider him one of our own.
The Matatu is, I think, a much more light hearted fun book than My Name is Blessing, as it tells of a young boy traveling by Matatu for the first time. His grandfather tells him a story of anthropomorphized animals riding the matatu to explain why the animals around them behave the way they do.